An Easter Homecoming for Jimmy
Easter marks the dawning of a new and eternal day. The Church commemorates the Resurrection day of Christ as an octave; eight days of rejoicing as if it were a single day. The preface for the Eucharistic prayer in these days speaks in the present tense “on this Easter day”. The Beatles sang of needing love eight days a week and of a longing for a space in which love could overflow even beyond eight days. God’s superabundant Love is manifested in this the highest of octaves.
Throughout Christendom baptismal fonts, the womb of the Church, are eight sided. In the waters of Baptism we die to sin and rise to new life in Christ. We begin to live in the eighth and eternal day. The fullness of this new day awaits us, yet we catch glimpses of it even now. The Easter story is the story of our homecoming in progress.
The Parish of St. Stephen Martyr in D.C. sees a generous sampling of the many who have been called by Christ to share in our communion. About a year and a half ago, I met Jimmy. Jimmy comes to Mass nearly every day; he attends lectures, and fellowship. Last Lent the parish sponsored Wednesday Lenten lunches. Parishioners gathered in the church hall after the noon Mass and sat in silence; eating a simple lunch while listening to readings on the passion of Christ from Fulton Sheen’s The Life of Christ. Jimmy loved these readings because his eyesight was failing. Just prior to Lent this year, Jimmy asked that we have bread and water at the Lenten lunches in order to observe more fully the spirit of Lent.
Jimmy is gentle and he speaks reverently about the gift of faith and life, he who has suffered much is strongly pro-life. One day I saw him sitting in Church and I went into the rectory to retrieve a holy card I had ordered with Jimmy in mind. The holy card is of St. Benedict Joseph Labre who, like Jimmy, was homeless. Jimmy was thrilled to hear there was a canonized saint who was homeless. In the late eighteenth century Labre experienced poverty and persecution on the streets of Rome and on pilgrim journeys. Like Jimmy, St. Benedict Joseph lived the eight beatitudes in the streets.
A few months ago Jimmy came to say that his bank card had been stolen. He wondered if I would call his Credit Union down south so his account would not be robbed. I called and agreed to receive mail for him at the parish office. A friend of mine groaned, “Oh, you should never have agreed to accept mail for him, you ought not to accept mail for anyone.” I groaned interiorly as I had decided long ago to give up “safe and respectable” Christianity. Crucifixion is not “respectable”. The resurrection is the gain on the risk of the cross’s folly.
Jimmy’s family lives far from Washington and they have not seen him in eight years. Mail leaving Washington often gets postmarked in Maryland and, so, his adult children had once come from the south to look for him, but in Maryland. Through some apparent indiscretion on the part of an employee at the Credit Union they came to learn that Jimmy was receiving mail through our parish church in Washington.
His sisters began to call and then send cards for Jimmy to the rectory. They wanted desperately to see their brother. Finally, I received an email. His one sister and her husband said they were coming for Jimmy late in March.
All of the sudden I went days without seeing Jimmy and then I received another communication. His family could not travel to D.C. in late March, they must come sooner. Holy Week arrived and they arrived. I began to pray asking St. Benedict Joseph Labre to pray with us that Jimmy might be found. I knew Jimmy liked Washington, but I knew also that he must go home to see those whom he loved. St. Benedict Joseph, I thought, would be eager to help with a homecoming during Holy Week. It was during Holy Week of 1783 that Labre had collapsed and died on the stairs of his favorite church in Rome, arriving finally at the heavenly homeland he had so much desired to see.
Good Friday night our good pastor wandered the streets to find Jimmy, his lost sheep. Close to 11 pm he found Jimmy. Jimmy was reunited with his sister and those who knew what was happening caught a fuller glimpse of the joy of Easter in which we are promised an eternal reunion with our Father, through Jesus our brother.
Together, Jimmy attended the Easter vigil with his sister and brother-in-law. We prayed with great rejoicing on Easter Sunday morning before Jimmy took his family to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for Mass. They set out on Monday on a road trip home, far to the south. Jimmy is well; he has found new life and a foretaste of the eternal day in heaven where none will be alien or homeless.